GOTYe Awards 2015

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As 2015 winds down and we begin our reflection of the past 12 months, critics and gamers alike are starting their lists of the best games of the year. While I could take the easy route and explain some of my favorite titles, I wanted to put a bit more thought into such a blog.

I decided to take a different approach; comparing games to Gotye song titles. Why would I do that, you ask? Well, apart from comedic value, this is my blog and you can fuck yourself. So, with that said, let’s kick of the GOTYe Awards 2015!!

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Somebody That I Used to Know Award – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5

It’s always sad when a cherished franchise becomes a former shell of itself. Activision had thoroughly milked the Tony Hawk license after the 5th game, but we kept getting sequels. I guess implementing things like dune buggies and tennis wasn’t enough, so Activision and Neversoft were content with throwing literally everything into a game.

This led the series to open-world territory, “realism” based trick systems and eventually a plastic skateboard controller. The series has been in flames for longer than my young cousin has been alive.

When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 was announced, gamers let out a sigh of relief. We were finally going to get a game that properly continued the legacy of the original titles on a next-gen system. Except, that isn’t what happened.

The game we ended up receiving was a broken mess of an overpriced coaster that barely functional properly and had very little content. I mean, I’ll all for having Tony Hawk roll around on the ground like he’s having an epileptic seizure, but I’m not willing to shell out $50 to do so.

It just takes me back to being a teenager and playing the hell out of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. It was the first game I bought with my own cash. It was the game that inspired me to listen to hard rock. It was also the catalyst to me becoming a completionist. THPS5 is basically a reminder that nostalgia is a lie.

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Board With This Game Award – Yoshi’s Woolly World

At this point in time, I’m going to assume that Yoshi’s Island was a complete fluke. I was utterly captivated with the game upon it’s release. It was all my 7 year old self could think about. I was a big fan of Mario, but playing this new Yoshi title was so different. It was colorful, inventive, laid-back and beautiful.

All of it’s mechanics made sense, were implemented in creative ways and never got old. Even the music was timeless, with tunes stuck in my head 20 years later. When I had originally played it, I thought Nintendo would be able to make an ever better game with more powerful hardware. The SNES was old by the time Yoshi’s Island rolled around, after all.

That game has never been given to us. Yoshi’s Woolly World was the best attempt at recreating some of the old-school magic, but Nintendo appears to be more focused on targeting nostalgia then anything else. I miss the Nintendo that took risks with their IPs.

Mostly, I just found the game utterly boring. It’s devoid of challenge and plays things so safely that I often had to stop after beating a few levels to prevent myself from falling asleep. I love those amiibo that were made to commemorate the game, but they don’t make me forget Yoshi’s Island.

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Here In This Place Award – Grow Home

When I saw Jim Sterling talking about an actual good Ubisoft game, I immediately got intrigued. I’ve been a fan of some of their franchises, but their more recent output has been plagued with bugs and issues that often cripple the entire experience. Even “classics” like Assassin’s Creed 2 had major game breaking bugs.

Still, Grow Home looked right up my alley. It was a free form game with a simple goal and endless opportunities to explore. I love exploring, I’m a fan of highly stylized art and I can never say no to original ideas. Grow Home may not be a classic, but it’s very charming.

It’s sense of scale is without equal. Climbing ever higher and peering down to the islands below is enough to take your breath away. It also makes your gut sink if you’re playing on a big enough television. The visuals may not be realistic (in any sense), but god damn if they don’t encapsulate exactly what developer Reflections was aiming for.

The sandy beaches, vibrant colors, endless sky and oddly shaped enemies make you believe you’re in a different world. It’s truly a great concept with awesome execution. It also reignited my love of rock climbing with some mechanics that correctly mimic the motions one makes while scaling a mountain.

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Thanks For Your Time Award – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

MGSV may not have been the send off for the beloved Metal Gear franchise we all hoped for, but it was a very well built game. It’s unique approach to stealth with an open world that felt like a real land mass made for some of the most intense and endlessly replayable scenarios in recent memory.

MGSV also did something that no other game really nailed quite as well; it acknowledged the player’s role in the legacy of Metal Gear. Sure, the ending twist is revealed in a sloppy manner and kind of muddles the already convoluted plotline ofMetal Gear, but the true message was that we are Big Boss.

We are the ones who have gone through all of the trials of tribulations of Snake. We have seen his best and worst times. We rose to the challenge to save this virtual world on multiple occasions. We started our own private army to combat digital mercenaries and prevent a nuclear apocalypse. Without us, Kojima would have never been able to create such an engrossing experience.

It’s sad to know that the future of Metal Gear is basically dead. Konami is a tired excuse of a once golden company. We can be grateful that Kojima won’t have to spend the rest of his days wasting away at a worthless sinkhole.

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Like Drawing Blood Award – Mortal Kombat X

I was pleasantly surprised with Mortal Kombat (2009). While the game was maybe a bit too similar to Street Fighter IV, it took a dying franchise that once captured the attention of the United States and brought it back to life.

The older games were focused on making the most gory and explosive experience possible. The first two haven’t aged particularly well, but Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3remains a classic. It’s combo system, innovative block button mechanic and aggression meter all make the game feel unique and brutal.

The 2009 reboot captured that same essence. It has the gore factor in check (and jacked up to 11), it has lots of combos strings and move cancels and it’s got plenty of diversity with it’s cast selection. Mortal Kombat X is basically a lesser version of the 2009 game.

While it’s graphics are insane and the gore is even more stomach turning, the game just feels off. From it’s garbage PC port to the milking of DLC with almost literal cheat codes bearing a $1 price tag, the game just feels gutted.

The story mode that was so fun to play in it’s predecessor has been cut down to a measly few hours with no real purpose. The online functionality has somehow gotten worse, despite being on more powerful hardware. Even the DLC fighters feel like a wasted opportunity, going with film nostalgia over any real innovation on or celebration of the MK legacy.

For a game that looked so promising to basically fizzle out after being launched is just sad. Playing it is like visiting the doctor’s office. You don’t want to be there and watching the needle draw blood is enough to make you pass out. It really sucks, as I thought Mortal Kombat was going to be here to stay.

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Easy Way Out Award – Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Another year, another Call of Duty game. A series that I once looked forward to is now a running joke with most gamers. It’s also a good case study for how to save on production costs between sequels.

Ever since Call of Duty 2, there has been a new game in this series every year. We are on the 12th entry in almost as many years. Having two developers working on a series should make for a fresh approach with every passing game, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Treyarch was, for a small while, attempting to do different things with the tired COD recipe. Black Ops brought things to the Vietnam War Era and Black Ops II attempted to inject some different gameplay elements into the mix, but Black Ops III just falls on the same bullshit as before.

I guess Advanced Warfare was a roaring success, because trying to actually distinguishBlack Ops III from the last title is a nigh on impossible task for anyone but diehard COD fans. The game doesn’t even make sense with the Black Ops name, having little connection to the previous games in it’s own trilogy arc.

Activision doesn’t care about that. Why try putting effort into your titles when you can take the easy way out and produce the same garbage year in, year out? For as much unfounded flak as the Call of Duty series gets, Black Ops III is an example of when the internet is actually correct about something.

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I Feel Better Award – Bloodborne

When Demon’s Souls came on the scene, many people took notice. Here was a game that was going against the norm and actually challenging gamers to think on their feet. There was no floating arrow to point you in the direction of the objective. There were no easy ways out of difficult situations. If you sucked, you weren’t finishing the game.

While Dark Souls seems to have stolen everyone’s heart, I’ve always had a fondness for the smaller ambitions of it’s predecessor. I loved the level structure, darker tone and more challenging combat of Demon’s Souls. I wanted a game with more brutality and with a stronger sense of challenge.

Bloodborne delivered on that. It’s level design created a sense of tension and dread in the early stages that gave way to more expansive and mind-bending labyrinths in the late game. It’s enemies were fast and ferocious with stronger AI and a thirst for blood.

Beating any single area felt like a massive accomplishment, let alone surmounting the bosses. Coming to terms with the combat, getting a feel for the world and making forward progress all led to a really gratifying sense of fun. The DLC was just icing on top of the cake.

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I’m not sure if this list ended up being as funny as I originally planned it to be. The whole Gotye craze that happened a few years ago seems to have disappeared. The guy clearly wasn’t trying to be a pop sensation, but the masses wised up to some decent music for once. It was frightening.

Regardless, I feel that “Somebody That I Used to Know” is still a part of the internet’s collective conscious. If you don’t get the reference, then too bad. Gotye certainly doesn’t care.

Anyway, happy 2015 everyone. Hopefully next year, I can think of some more Gotye related song titles to go with some awards. Or maybe it will just be “Smoke and Mirrors”.

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Yearning For The Past

Nintendo has made a habit of banking on nostalgia. For the past few years, nearly every single one of their games is firmly rooted in the past. Mario has been refining Super Mario Bros 3 since the New series launched on Wii and Super Smash Bros. is basically a celebration of everything old.

Yoshi’s Woolly World is, essentially, a touched up version of the classic Yoshi’s Island on SNES. Instead of falling head over heals, though, I find myself indifferent. Every chance I get to play the game, I end up bored after 8 levels.

That isn’t to say the game is bad; far from it, actually. It’s a well crafted and hyper polished adventure, but it lacks creativity. It lacks soul; there is no passion and the game coasts along at a lethargic pace.

Is that a bad thing? Honestly, I cannot answer that. For some, the deliberate speed of the game is what makes it enjoyable. My sister finds the game very captivating, despite being easy for her. She loves that nothing is thrown at the player that requires dexterity or mastery of the game mechanics.

As for me, I only seem to find entertainment in the graphics. The game is a sight to behold. Nintendo have truly gotten a grasp on HD graphics and I’m curious to see what the NX might bring to the table. That doesn’t dismiss how humdrum Woolly World is.

It sure is nice looking, though.

All of the cool concepts you remember from Island are in this game, minus Baby Mario. While a lot of people would call that a plus, it’s a huge detractor in my book. Baby Mario was annoying, sure, but he served a purpose; it gave you a goal.

You didn’t want Baby Mario crying because it would drive you up the wall. With him not being a factor, you tend to recklessly fly through the game with no concern for death. Yoshi changes from cautious guardian to senseless traveler.

It really doesn’t help that each boss encounter is phoned in. I haven’t seen a collection of enemies so meaningless in some time, but not a single boss battle in Woolly World is even remotely interesting. They all follow the well established 3-hit formula to a tee. Even the bosses with a cool theme (a shy guy frozen in ice) end up being boring slogs.

Mostly, I end up feeling sad. If I don’t like a game, I tend to get angry and a little rash, but Woolly World just makes me depressed. I want to enjoy it’s cute exterior and finely tuned mechanics, but I can’t sustain interest.

Level 5-6, titled “Up Shuttlethread Pass“, is what really brought this full circle. It’s theme song is immediately nostalgic and evocative while being entirely new. It sounds almost like it is being played on an old phonograph player; I basically picture the entire scene in black and white.

It makes me yearn for my youth. I remember powering up Yoshi’s Island for the first time in 1st grade, sitting in front of my 27-inch RCA CRT and being blown away at how different the game was from Super Mario World.

What was with SNES and sports themed enemies?

There once was a time when Nintendo was willing to take risks with their franchises. Nintendo EAD could have easily churned out another average Mario game and called it a day, but they decided to focus on his new sidekick.

In turn, the entire dynamic of the game changed. No longer was everything based on physicality and secrets; Yoshi had the ability to stock ammo and explore his world without a time limit.

Not wanting to entirely ditch power-ups, Nintendo created a whole new way to experience Mario’s various abilities; transformations. Yoshi was able to become a helicopter and a mole and see a completely unique aspect of the levels.

In addition to that, there were also puzzles involving rolling blocks, hidden coins, soft dirt platforms and fuzzy seeds that intoxicated Yoshi (somehow). It was unlike any game ever released at that point. It’s art style was also wonderfully realized and brought to life with imaginative music.

For a child 7 years old, it was fundamentally like looking into a new world. It grabbed me with it’s cartoony style and kept me hooked with it’s innovation. It expanded my mind to different gameplay; I now didn’t expect the same thing from Mario with each iteration.

Sadly, it seems Nintendo never fully realized what made Yoshi’s Island so special. Each new game has tried mixing up the visual style instead of expanding the mechanics. The closest we’ve ever gotten to a truly progressive sequel was Yoshi’s Island DS. That game worked because it kept the original foundation and tinkered with some changes.

The game feels weird on Wii U. I can’t understand the screens side by side.

Every other title, from the disappointing Yoshi’s Story right up to Yoshi’s New Island, have gone backwards in terms of progression. Instead of trying to find a new way for Yoshi to interact with his surroundings, Nintendo has relied on gimmicks. In New Island, Yoshi has giant eggs; in Woolly World, everything is made of yarn, etc.

Maybe the whole problem with the Yoshi series is that our youth keeps reminding us of how great the idea can be. When given something so different and so well done, it’s hard to ever repeat that success.

Mario has maintained popularity over the years for being so boldly different with each game, up until the New series started coming along. Now, Nintendo could only inject new life into the franchise by handing it over to the players (Super Mario Maker is awesome).

Could Yoshi be saved by the same gamble? I don’t believe so. Yoshi’s Island felt handcrafted and thought-out; not a single level repeats a mechanic to the same extent. Each new element may come out of nowhere, but doesn’t appear out of place stacked next to Yoshi’s repertoire of moves. Level design wasn’t the only aspect that made Yoshi’s Island, unlike how a Mario game can function solely from it’s arenas.

Whatever the cause, I just cannot enjoy Yoshi’s Woolly World. I may love my amiibos to death, but the game doesn’t do anything for me. Well, it does make me sad, but that’s not the best thing to say about a game.

On Nintendo and “Artificial Scarcity”

When the Nintendo Wii launched in 2006, you were lucky if you got one. The system was one of the fastest selling consoles, at the time, and ended up being the biggest success Nintendo has had with a home console. For years after release, the Wii was barely seen at stores.

Many a parent confronted this situation in 2006.

Flash forward to the present and we’re seeing a similar pattern. Amiibos are scarce and the “New” 3DS is basically a myth to most people. Along with that, Nintendo has produced a scant few copies of their “limited edition” releases that have enraged fans who were unable to be at a computer when they were announced.

While I love Nintendo, I honestly cannot defend these types of situations. The fact that small plastic figures are selling on eBay for close to $100 is just ludicrous. Nintendo is sitting on a literal gold mine (as shown by the sales numbers) and is, essentially, throwing away the chance for extra profit.

This seems to be a trend with the company. Certain items are available for a short time and then vanish. Four Swords for the DSi was given away in a free promotion and then left the DSi Shop (it did resurface for four days, but it happened three years later).

There are even special events that Nintendo runs for PokeMon that end up with impossible to catch creatures being absent from the digital worlds. Unless you were lucky enough to know to visit the Tokyo PokeMon center (or if you were even alive), you basically  missed out on Celebi and Arceus.

Nintendo of America seems to be the worst of the bunch. With both Mario Kart 8 and Hyrule Warriors, the only collector’s editions in the entire United States were at Nintendo World in New York City. While I was able to get the Mario Kart 8 bundle, I missed out completely on Hyrule Warriors.

Stupid Sigy; This doesn’t actually exist.

I got to New York City at 7 am. The store opens at 8 am. My friend and I waited for an entire hour in line, only to find out at precisely 8 that they had sold out around 4 am. Why this information wasn’t posted on Twitter or Facebook or even mentioned to people lining up is beyond me.

What else really stings is that Nintendo reportedly only made around 300-500 copies of the collector’s edition. I suppose if I really want it, I could shell out the $1,400 that the item typically runs on eBay, but now we’re talking stupidity.

Factor in another Wii U title, Smash Bros, and you’ll be surprised to know that the Gamecube controller adapter (which only works with Smash, mind you) is virtually impossible to find. You can get plenty of the newer Gamecube controllers, but good luck using them with anything Smash Bros 4 related.

This brings me to the current Majora’s Mask situation. With the re-release of the game on 3DS, Nintendo issued a collector’s edition (thankfully away from their one US based store) and a limited “New” 3DS. Do you think anyone who has a day job was able to get these?

I somehow got my hands on the console. In a fervor with me in the bathroom, I ended up rushing through my “business” and jumping on my computer in seconds. While I think it was insane what I did, the fact that Nintendo is playing these kinds of games with retailers is just beyond unreasonable.

This is the only Triforce I need!

Nintendo, listen to me: You have products that people want. Fans of your games and creations are willing to pay good money to get “special” editions and collectibles. Instead of allowing scalpers to make a killing, why not release a higher quantity that matches demand?

Better yet, why not announce what your future plans are? Instead of saying things are going well on the sales front, how about you give your consumers a concrete idea for finding these supposed rare items. Don’t give us an excuse based on trade limitations.

While I can’t get behind Nintendo’s artificial scarcity, I will at least say that each item is pretty special. Maybe it is because of how exceptionally rare these items are, but I cherish my “New” 3DS and am proud to say that I was able to get that stupid blue shell from Mario Kart 8. I just wish a few more people had the chance to do so.

You’ve got nothing on a double Link assault!